Aciz & Galathea
During the first half of the 17th century the Spanish zarzuela, a play with a mixture of spoken and sung dialogue, was transformed from court entertainment to public theatre. Antonio Literes, probably the most original composer in the genre, was an important figure in this shift, mainly because of the enormous popularity of just one of his four surviving zarzuela s, Acis y Galatea. Composed for performance at court in 1708, its text retells the story, much used by 17th- and 18th-century composers for the stage, of the love between the sea-nymph Galatea and the shepherd Acis, and the jealousy that this provoked in the grotesque Cyclops, Polyphemus. The settings by Lully and Handel are the best known, but that by Literes also has a place in the story of the reception of the tale, most familiar to audiences from its appearance in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.
Even in Spain this piece is little known and rarely performed, and its revival by Al Ayre Espanol directed by Eduardo Lopez Banzo, the foremost interpreters of Spanish baroque music, is greatly to be welcomed. This ensemble have already acquired a justly deserved reputation for their imaginative and ambitious performances of rediscovered works, performed on either baroque instruments or copies, and this latest record in the series will undoubtedly delight their growing band of devotees. There is great charm and inventiveness in this music, which ingeniously blends elements of Spanish tradition with Italianate gestures, and Al Ayre Espanol respond with a reading that is fresh and direct, with the contrasting situations and characters inherent in the text vividly portrayed.
In a cast dominated by women (including the role of Acis, brilliantly sung by Lola Casariego), Jordi Ricart puts in a virtuoso double performance as Momo the clown as well as Polifemo, with a notable characterisation of the latter in his brief comic solo ‘Dulce Galatea’. Lopez Banzo does not linger, there is some fine playing from the group (even if the local colour of castanets and guitar is a little overapplied), and the fast-moving choruses which frame the piece are done with verve